COMING SOON: 10 EXCITING INDIE FILMS BY AMERICAN LATINOS

No better time than Oscar week to post my annual list of new films made by Latinos. I hope reading about these cool flicks inspires you to seek and consume the stories you value outside the super exclusive corporate media. Before we get to the list, my 3.63 pesos on the #HollywoodSoWhite convo.

I appreciated Dennis Romero’s recent LA Weekly article called “Hollywood’s Diversity Emergency is not Black” in which he gives big ups to the Black community for doing the ‘heavy lifting’ in making the diversity conversation trend. Romero essentially calls on the Asian and Latino community to take part in the dialogue because we stand the most to gain in moving the dial considering the wider gap that exists between Asian and Latinos’ population and their respective media representation compared to African Americans’ numbers.

Using the framework of proportion, USC’s Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity reveals that across the 309 episodes and 109 films they covered, 15% were directed by women (50% population), and 13% were directed by underrepresented racial/ethnic groups (38% non-white).

It makes sense that the percentage of on screen underrepresented characters increases (17.5%) when an underrepresented director is at the helm of a scripted episode or film.
I’m not sure what to make then of a recent phenomenon I have seen within the Latino community; an overwhelming desire/shift to tell stories UNRELATED to their Latino identity. Don’t get it twisted,  I respect the artist’s prerogative and agree that just because you are from a certain ethnicity, you shouldn’t feel obligated to tell that ‘ethnic film’. But if the rationale is that in order to tell a universal story you can’t be ethnic specific, I totally take issue with that, and would argue on the contrary, we just haven’t done it enough to prove it’s not true.  Along these puzzling but no less real lines, I was startled to read in the report, “As (female) power increases, female presence decreases. In film, television, and streaming executive ranks, 46.7% of Senior Vice President-level executives are female.”  What’s up ladies?

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Part of me gets it though, both artist and gatekeeper is faced with the obligation, pressure and responsibility to succeed in a business of mediated platforms.  Unfortunately that usually means don’t stick your neck out, less risk.  But what if we made it our goal to seize and create as many chances to allow ourselves to FAIL, at least as much as the rest get to, because that is how we get to the next level.

Okay enough rant!  Here is my curated list of brand spanking new feature length fiction films written and directed by filmmakers in the US of A who have Mexican/Caribbean/Central/South American roots. Many of these films are in post-production but might be making their world premiere at a film festival or VOD later this year.  As you can tell, some filmmakers clearly chose to tell a story from a specific Latino character/experience, while others drew from their culture in a more abstract, no less personal route.  One thing is for sure though, each of these artists have been hustling their craft for years outside the studio system which is why you can see a distinct genre and aesthetic in their work.  Make sure to check out the links to their previous work.  It is one thing to say there we be underrepresented and quite another thing to be overlooked.

BETWEEN US written and directed by Rafael Palacio Illingworth

From Caviar Content, a multi media company that financed last year’s Diary of a Teenage Girl by Marielle Heller, comes this intense romance drama made by Mexico/Colombia raised AFI grad Rafael Palacio Illingworth.  The film features two incredibly talented actors Olivia Thirlby (Juno) and Ben Feldman (Ginsberg in Mad Men!) as a couple navigating a tempestuous “post-honeymoon phase” while trying to hang on to the chemistry that first made them gravitate towards each other. Rafael starred in his own first film MACHO ( see here,) which like The Force, also tracked a relationship through the initial meet-cute high.  Macho landed with IFC after premiering at the Raindance Film Festival in London in 2010. The film just announced its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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antibirthANTIBIRTH written and directed by Danny Perez

Danny is two for two, his first and second films have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Raised in Virginia in a Cuban Catholic family, Danny cut his visual teeth while collaborating with avant garde music group, Animal Collective for years.  His first film, Oddsac is in many ways a sensory album for the band. It screened in Sundance’s experimental New Frontier section in 2010. Taking his skills for phantasmagoric imagery and folding hyperreal narrative and social commentary Perez shot the wasteland USA set Antibirth which stars none other than the coolest indie queens, Natasha Lyonne and Chle Sevigny.  The film got rave reviews, having premiered in the much talked about Midnight section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  A film that’s been called “a debauched progeny of Cronenberg’s classic, The Brood, it has without a doubt the wildest, most bat-shit crazy ending I have ever seen. Must-watch. Stay tuned to hear where it lands more fests and distribution.

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HEARTS OF PALM written and directed by  Monica Peña

Following her first feature, the experimental street docu-fiction film, Ectotherms, which drew comparisons to Harmony Korine’s work, Monica Peña is back with her second feature, Hearts of Palm. The fable like film follows a romance en route to decay between two sentient beings. Peña brings to life her distinct vision with her previous collaborators Brad Lovett aka Dim Past who stars and is behind the sonic pulse of the film, and Jorge Rubiera, cinematographer who beams an otherworldly yet unmistakable Miami vibe. The Cuban American filmmaker is a Sundance Institute/Knight Fellow.   Watch Ectotherms here.  Hearts of Palm is world premiering at the upcoming Miami International Film Festival.

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Lupe21LUPE UNDER THE SUN written and directed by Rodrigo Reyes

Since the debut of his 2012 highly acclaimed and visual border documentary, Purgatorio, Rodrigo Reyes has been developing a number of projects, including this evocative tale called Lupe Under the Sun. Originally planned to be a documentary set in Merced, his hometown, Northern California, Reyes let the story evolve into a hybrid  film about an old Mexican man who has spent his entire life working in the California fields.  When he attempts to get back in touch with the family and life he left behind, he finds out that his absence did not stop them from moving on.  Shot by Justin Chin, his D.P. on Purgatorio, the film casts a neorealist, tinge of black humor aided by the real world surroundings of the agricultural desert suburb.  Lupe Under the Sun was selected to participate in IFP Narrative Lab last year and is expected to finish the film in 2016.

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MARIGOLD THE MATADOR, written and directed by Kenneth Castillo

The prolific independent LA born and raised Chicano filmmaker, Kenny Castillo is currently finishing his 7th feature.  Known for his popular short form series, The Misadventures of Cholo Chaplin which he is currently developing into animation, Castillo has since successfully specialized in urban films led by multi dimensional characters. Marigold the Matador focuses on a single mother from the perspective of an 11 year old girl who deals with her feelings of loneliness and isolation by imagining herself as a Matador in the world of the Day of the Dead. Most of the story  was shot unscripted and the result is a very authentic and emotionally engaging film.  He is currently raising funds to finish the film. The true blue indie filmmaker entrepreneur he is, you can head over to his website and buy a cool Cholo Chaplin shirt, check out his complete body of work, and donate to his film.

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FUGUE written and directed by Jorge Torres-Torres

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I know, not FUGUE, but no film still avail yet
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Artist known as Torres

I only recently discovered the work of this enigmatic filmmaker who’s been lurking along the coolest fringes of art genre.  Among his previous films, 2014’s moody verite, Shadow Zombie won a prize for best “documentary-sh” film at the renowned Chicago Underground Film Festival. Sisters of the Plague starring Josephine Deckker screened at last year’s  New Orleans Film Festival and Outfest.  Back in 2011 Jorge was the cinematographer on Jonathan Caouette’s Cannes documentary, Walk Away Renee.   Yes , he also directs music videos, including this neat Modest Mouse Strangers to Ourselves track.  The Puerto Rican born filmmaker has also produced and shot a number of random videos you can find on his Tumblr.  Upcoming films include a documentary about the Slacker esque Athens, Georgia music scene called A Peculiar Noise, premiering at this year’s Atlanta Film Festival, and Fugue, which follows a woman (Sophie Traub) who wanders around an island lost and out of place.  Having binged on his work recently I can safely say that he casts spells of mad intrigue and strange  dream-state feels.  Definitely an indie auteur you should know.

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greenghostposter_twitchTHE GREEN GHOST directed by Michael Olmos 

Michael Olmos goes family superhero action film in The Green Ghost, his 4th feature film.  It is not surprising that Olmos is collaborating with Marco Zaror; back in 2006 Marko made noise in the Chilean street action thriller, Kiltro which premiered at LALIFF, the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival headed by Michael’s father, Eddie Olmos.  Michael’s underrated first film, Splinter in 2006 was shot on the streets of LA and displayed his stylish and gritty directing chops. Olmos went on to co-direct and produce the 2012 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Competition film  Filly Brown which catapulted Gina Rodriguez pre-Jane the Virgin.  Zaror has many fans around the world having carved out for himself a string of martial arts action flicks, many of which have played Fantastic Fest where incidentally he and Michael sneaked some footage of the Green Ghost last year.  The film is about a man having to overcome his insecurities to transform into a superhero and defeat the dangerous bruja Lechusa who plans to bring back the wrath of Moctezuma.   Currently in post.

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DADDY’S BOY written and directed by Daniel Armando

Daniel’s first feature What it Was made the Latino/LGBT film festival run.  The story about an actor coming to terms with a recent family loss and her marriage breakup returns to her home in Brooklyn where she runs into an old college girlfriend. The film has raw verite scenes interlaced with poetic close up cinematic imagery.  He has not one but two films premiering at this year’s Cinequest Film Festival next month.  He directed a film called When I’m With You, and wrote and directed an erotic swoon and slow dance film, Daddy’s Boy which indulges in its queer cinema throwback and music interludes as it follows four young men behind the closed doors of a burlesque studio, shedding more than just their clothes and inhibitions.  Daniel has said that he likes films that wander throughout space.   He’s been quoted as saying, “A lot of my favorite films don’t feature characters like this, and I feel I have a responsibility as an artist of color to tell everyday stories from a perspective rarely seen.”

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DON’T KILL IT directed by Mike Mendez

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Dolph, demon hunter

From the director of Big Ass Spider which played at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, comes this supernatural action thriller, starring none other than 80s movies action icon, Dolph Lundgren.  Mike Mendez, born to Salvadorean and Mexican family parents, born and raised in LA has been busy.  After Big Ass Spider he did Lavalantula about giant lava spewing tarantulas. Last year he put together an anthology of scary shorts, Tales of Halloween directed by various filmmakers including Lucky McKee (2002’s May is one of my long time cult faves).  Mendez doesn’t show any signs of slowing his roll which is a good thing for his loyal fans.  His love for genre is evident in his filmmaking, and his action/horror genre is mixed with a  pure sense of humor.

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 FROZEN PEAS written and directed by Alonso Mayo

A real bi-cultural American who spent his formative years in between Lima, Peru and Lawrence, Kansas, Alonso Mayo first moved to LA to attend AFI where he made his thesis short film, Wednesday Afternoon.  In 2013, Gravitas Ventures picked up his first feature, The Story of Luke starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Seth Green, Cary Elwes and Kristin Bauer.  His sophomore effort, Frozen Peas is a funny and honest film about a husband and father to three kids finds himself in the throes of a masculinity panic attack when pressured by his wife to consider vasectomy.

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First Features Alert

To round up the list here are three special mentions of directorial debuts to watch coming soon; Bruising for Besos written and directed by Adelina Anthony, the queer chicana poet who wrote the story for one of my favorite short films, You’re Dead To Me.  A critically acclaimed and beloved solo artist performer, she stars herself in Brusing as Yoli, a smooth talker whose game is put to the test in pursuit of romance. Varsity Punks written and directed by Anthony Solorzano is a high school comedy following a tight knit rambunctious cross country team shot in El Monte starring Efren Ramirez as the coach.   H.O.M.E by Daniel Maldonado which is premiering a the Queens World Film Festival stars Jeremy Ray Valdez as a young man with Aspergers. See trailer for H.O.M.E. below.

5 Latina-Directed Feature Films Breaking out in 2015

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 3.54.21 PMI am happy to see more people vocalize demand for Latina representation onscreen and the resurging interest in solving this messed up disparity issue  (Thank you Gina Rodriguez Golden Globes acceptance speech).   However, the representation issue I find ten times more urgent to address is the anguishing miniscule percentage of Latina CONTENT CREATORS in film and television.

I give you 5 bomb Latina DIRECTORS who are are at the helm of brand new feature films coming out this year, women who are striking through the hostile mass media industry to escape the rule of homogeneity (white male perspective).  Now that is something to celebrate.  It’s not surprising that three of these are documentaries.  The percentage of women directed films in documentaries is higher than in fiction.  Now I can’t say with total certainty these  2 Latina directed U.S. fiction feature length films are the only ones out there this year…actually yes I can…..until someone reaches out to correct me ….and I really do hope to be corrected because only two???????

LOS 33

Director: Patricia Riggen
Writers: Mikko Alanne, Michael John Bell, Craig Borten, Jose Rivera
Producers: Robert Katz, Edward McGurn, Mike Medavoy
Cinematographer: Checco Varese
Music: James Horner
U.S. Distributor: TBA
Cast: Rodrigo Santoro, Antonio Banderas, Cote de Pablo, James Brolin, Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, Lou Diamond Phillips, Kate del Castillo, Tenoch Huerta
Social Media: @The33Pelicula

Logline: Based on the incredible real-life story of the 33 survivors of a copper-gold mine in Chile that collapsed and trapping them 700 meters underground for 69 days until their rescue.

Add Riggen to the exclusive ranks of women who fought for and have proved they got the chops to direct big action, Hollywood type genre movies like Katheryn Bigelow, Mimi Leder. The trailer for Los 33 that dropped last week reveals an epic dramatization of the intensely emotional struggle to survive the Chilean mine disaster. The English language film carries a sweeping score by none other than James Horner (and naturally you can hear Violetta Parra’s classic song, Gracias Por La Vida).  Add to that a big hero performance by Antonio Banderas who leads an ensemble cast of well known international actors (including hottie Mexican star of Güeros, Tenoch Huerta!!). Riggen, who was born in Guadalajara but moved to the states after graduating Columbia’s film school in NY,  made a splash with her 2007 film, Under the Same Moon starring a back-then-virtually-unknown-in-the-U.S. Eugenio Derbez, and Kate del Castillo. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival then was picked up by Pantelion, the studio she later worked with on the Eva Mendes starrer Girl in Progress.

Domestic distribution and release stateside is yet to be confirmed. Meanwhile Twentieth Century Fox will be releasing the film in Chile in August, marking the fifth anniversary of the incident, before rolling out the film throughout Latin America including Mexico. For an in-depth account of Los 33, check out current best-seller, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free” by Hector Tobar.

ENDGAME

Director: Carmen Marron
Writers: Hector Salinas, Carmen Marron
Producers: Sandra Avila, Carmen Marron
Executive Producers: Hector Salinas, Betty Sullivan
Associate Producer: Bonnie Emerson
Cinematographer: Francisco Bulgarelli
Music: Brian Standefer
Cinematographer: Francisco Bulgarelli
U.S. Distributor: TBA
Cast: Rico Rodriguez, Efren Ramirez, Justina Machado, Jon Gries
Social Media: @GoForIt_Carmen
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ENDGAME SAN ANTONIO PaperLogline: Shot in Brownsville and inspired by true events, ENDGAME is a coming-of-age story about a young boy who joins the school chess team, and with the help of his coach, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, team spirit and the importance of family.

IMG_9959 copyAnother talented genre director (and fellow Chicana from Chicago, HEYYY) whose tenacity and talent make her primed to be our Latina Ava Duvernay success story (of course that depends on whether the public (and gatekeepers) support her to make the change to the system to demand her spot in the national mainstream).  I wrote about Carmen’s tireless spirit before, mentioning her first film which she shot, wrote, directed and produced in Chicago called Go For It (which incidentally was Gina Rodriguez’s first feature role). Her latest film is Endgame starring the precocious Manny from Modern Family, Rico Rodriguez, and Efren Ramirez from cult classic Napoleon Dynamite, Endgame is one of those irresistible competition, underdog, against-all-odds stories. Ramirez portrays the galvanizing Brownsville public elementary school teacher and chess afficionado, J.J. Guajardo, who in 1989, upon seeing his 6th grade class take an interest in his chess board, began to teach them on the regular. The class excelled and entered regional competitions, going on to enter and win state championships against schools with far more resources. Echoing the positives of disrupting a broke educational status quo with simply offering access to advanced mental cognition building tools, the film echoes another real life story and seminal Chicano film, Stand & Deliver.  Big difference; that movie was not directed by a Latino/a.

The film is world premiering at the Dallas International Film Festival April 12 &13. Distribution is yet to be confirmed for theatrical/VOD but stay tuned via the Facebook page.

NO MÁS BEBÉS

Directors/Producers: Renee Tajima-Peña, Virginia Espino
Associate Producer: Kate Trumbull-Valle
Executive Producers: Julie Parker Benello, Wendy Ettinger, Judith Helfland, Sally Jo Fiefer and Sandra Pedlow
U.S. Distributor: ITVS/Latino Public Broadcasting
Cinematographer: Claudio Rocha
Music: Bronwen Jones, additional music by Quetzal
Cast: Antonia Hernandez, Gloria Molina, Dolores Madrigal, Jovita Rivera, Consuelo Hermosillo
Social Media: Facebook

 Logline: An investigation of the sterilization of Mexican-American women at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the 1960s and 70s

6. Maria Figueroa at courthouse

Sadly, there is an appalling history in the United States of laws and policies authorizing sterilizations of poor women without their knowledge or consent for the “benefit of society”; Buck v. Bell (low-income white women in Virginia), Relf v. Weinberger (young African-American women in Alabama), and female inmates in California. This film focuses on the case of Latinas of Mexican origin in California in Madrigal v. Quilligan.  Shedding light on this horrific human rights violation, the film includes interviews with women who suffered this terrible ordeal and locked the memory away, along with former medical staff and the incredible lawyer who filed this suit forty years ago, Antonia Hernandez. A  long-time coming, supremely valuable and eye opening contextualization of the Chicano rights movement from the late 60s/70s as well as the current reproductive justice movement.

Renee, a proud Asian American, is a sister in the struggle to document the Latino community, and Virginia Espino, is a Latina LA born-and-raised historian. This is one of those Latina stories that really needs to be known and remembered this year which marks the 40th anniversary of the lawsuit (June 19).  It is ready to be unveiled and seen by as wide an audience as possible. Stay tuned to hear when the film will have its world premiere before its broadcast on Independent Lens in the fall.

NOW EN ESPAÑOL

Director: Andrea Meller
Producers: Aaron Woolf, Andrea Meller
Music: Camara Kambon
Cinematographer: Charlie Gruet
U.S. Distributor: PBS/Latino Public Broadcasting
Cast: Marabina Jaimes, Marcela Bordes, Gabriela Lopetegui, Ivette Gonzalez, Natasha Perez
Social Media: @NowenEspanol, website

Logline: Follows the trials and triumphs of the small group of Latina actresses who dub “Desperate Housewives” into Spanish.

Currently hitting the festival circuit in such reputable festivals as Santa Barbara, Chicago Latino Film Festival, CineFestival, ahead of its showing on PBS Voces, Now en Espanol is such an effective and distinct balance of humor, serious-ness and insider look by Chilean-American Andrea Meller.NowEnEspanol_Still1

Profiling Marcela Bordes, Ivette Gonzalez, Marabina Jaimes, Gabriela Lopetegui and Natasha Perez, the film is quite plainspoken and sympathetic about the struggle of the actor in Hollywood. Like the comedy fiction film (also directed by a woman!) In a World, by Lake Bell,  the film offers a rare behind the scenes and insight into the voice acting industry. Few actors make make careers out of this, others pick it up for income, but in the end it is a highly distinct skill to dub millions of shows.   It’s really fascinating perspective on the representation of Latinas onscreen and off. What I love most about this film on top of it being an important tool for dialogue and change, is that the filmmaker injects a whimsy tone (apropos Wisteria Lane) which makes sparking this conversation and call to action so much more effective.  You have no reason to miss this as it premieres on Friday, April 24, 2015, 10:00-11:00 p.m.  (check local listings) as part of VOCES, Latino Public Broadcasting’s arts and culture series on PBS. To get a taste of the ladies’ charm and humor check out the trailer:

OVARIAN PSYCOS

Director: Kate Trumbull-LaValle & Joanna Sokolowski
Producers:Kate Trumbull-LaValle & Joanna Sokolowski
U.S. Distributor: ITVS (broadcast)
Cinematographer: Michael Raines
Music: Jimmy LaValle
Cast: Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade
Social Media: Facebook

04_Prod Still_Xela Mariachi PlazaLogline: Follows the story of an all woman of color bicycle brigade, the Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade. Based in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in Eastside Los Angeles, the Ova’s are a collective of unapologetic, politicized, young Latina women who host monthly bike rides every full moon for women and women-identified riders.

jkmontage3Ever since I interviewed Kate during her film’s Kickstarter, I’ve been madly anticipating this, so I’m pleased to scoop that it will be ready late Fall thanks to ITVS coming in with finishing funds. Protegees of esteemed film ladies like Renee Tajima Peña and B. Ruby Rich, the ladies have spent more than two years riding with the Ovas for this documentary.  Says Joanna, “There are lots of bike groups in LA, but what’s unique about the Ova’s is each ride has a socio-political theme and ends with a group discussion. They dialogue about everything from violence against women to the gentrification of Boyle Heights”.

The Ova’s s leadership is run by the collective who work “To Serve, not to Self Serve.  Credited as founder is activist and music artist, Xela de la X who formed this rad collective in 2011 with the mission to cycle for the purpose of healing, reclaim neighborhoods, and create safer streets for women on the Eastside.  Currently being edited the film should be ready for the Fall if not early next year.

In case you are wondering Trumbull-LaValle is two generations apart from family in Northern Mexico.  Which I only add as proof that last names and color of skin are not indicators for knowing whether someone identifies as Latino/a or not.

Which leads me to reiterate, I really hope these 5 are not the only Latina directors with films coming out this year.   Calling out an A.P.B. to Latina directors with a feature length film (fiction especially) in production or post, holler at your girl chicanafromchicago@gmail.com!

Mamacitas! Boyle Heights Latina Independent Film Festival – GO

I’m so sad I’m out of town for this!  But it doesn’t mean you can’t go to the East side this weekend to support the underrepresented talent and force on display by a program of all latina talent!

This weekend, starting Friday ,March 2 to Sunday Marc 4, in concert with International Women’s Day, the Boyle Heights Latina Independent Film Festival, founded by Josefina Lopez (Real Women Have Curves), with newly installed Festival Director and Film Independent’s Project Involve selected filmmaker, Sandra Varona, celebrates their 6th year drawing attention to the growing number of Latinas working behind the camera.  Along with 20 films on tap, there will workshops and panels and obvio, fiestas, all taking place at newly renovated CASA 0101, a state of the art cultural theater that features a 99-seat theater, art gallery and learning center in the vibrant community of Boyle Heights.  When Lopez bought it over a decade ago, it was a tiny neglected storefront in a depressing neighborhood.  Today, this stretch on 1st has seen a visible revitalization thanks to artists like Lopez who are from the area and create opportunities to showcase the area’s cultural arts.  Over email Josefina said, “It’s exciting to see this festival grow and to finally have it presented at our new theater.  Bringing this many Latina directors and this much talent is a real celebration of our community, femininity, and creativity.   It’s going to be so much fun!”
BHLIFE will officially baptize the brand new 99 seat theatre

While I have not had the pleasure of seeing most films I do recognize a few shorts, including the charming teen dance number, Understudy by Cristina Malavenda, and Child of The Desert, a moving drama about a woman lost, by Ilana Sosa, a short that recently caught my eye at San Antonio’s Cinefestival.

Big shout out and mucha suerte to the team at BHLIFE this weekend!

Visit website for tickets and like their FB page